Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) with then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman at a joint press conference on May 30, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
1. With just over a month to go before the election re-do, parties are making their final campaign push to woo less-than-enthusiastic Israelis back to the polls for a second time this year.
Israel Hayom on Wednesday offers an extensive roundup of where the major parties’ campaigns stand in the final stretch of campaigning before the September 17 vote.
Columnist Mati Tuchfeld says that like the elections in 2015 and in April, the results of the vote won’t be determined until the very last minute, and that all the major parties will spending the final weeks of the campaign “driving home the message that it isn’t the size of the party that matters, but the size of the bloc.”
Anticipating another close election, Tuchfeld says the Likud party in its final weeks is spending “millions of shekels” on data analytics to identify and directly micro-target potential voters via cellphone messages and social media ads.
2. He notes the ruling party is “heavily investing resources” to woo Russian-speaking voters.
A Wednesday report in Haaretz said Likud was spending NIS 20,000 a week on Russian social media ads in the lead-up to the election.
3. Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s main election challengers, Benny Gantz’s Blue and White alliance, are focusing on field work in the final weeks of the campaign, according to Tuchfeld. He says the centrist alliance has already set up 200 field offices throughout the country to coordinate the campaign and its volunteers.
Blue and White is also preparing to dispatch hundreds of observers to some 9,000 polling stations to monitor voting in the wake of the Likud hidden camera scandal.
During the April 9 elections, Likud equipped some 1,200 polling officials working at ballot stations in Arab population centers with hidden body cameras to prevent what the party claims was rampant fraud in those cities. Critics have charged the cameras were a form of voter intimidation designed to keep the non-Jewish minority from the polls, and the legality of the issue will be determined by the Central Elections Committee in the coming weeks.
A hidden camera allegedly snuck into a polling station in an Arab town by a Likud observer during parliamentary elections on April 9, 2019. (Courtesy Hadash-Ta’al)
4. Haaretz leads the front page of its Wednesday paper with the legal opinion by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who told the Central Elections Committee that Likud’s surveillance of polling stations was a criminal offense.
In his letter to the committee, Mandelblit said the hidden cameras at polling stations was a violation of citizens’ privacy, and expressed concern that the footage could be compiled into a database and used for other purposes at a later time. According to Haaretz, Mandelblit wrote that installing cameras at polling stations where there was a high risk of voter fraud was legitimate, but that special legislation would be needed to regulate and oversee the use of cameras to ensure privacy.
5. Haaretz columnists also weigh in on Likud’s efforts to secure a win in the election re-do that is on course for another neck-and-neck fight with Blue and White.
Columnist Chaim Levinson says that Netanyahu’s latest strategy to bolster his voter turnout among Russians by attacking his former defense minister Liberman is backfiring.
As the vast majority of Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu voters are Soviet-born, they have deep concerns about issues of religion and state, and have long been alienated by Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition partners, Levinson says. “Liberman might not be promising his voters drastic changes… but he’s still benefiting from his image as a fighter for secularism,” he writes.
An election campaign poster showing Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman over the caption, ‘Right-wing, and secular too,’ in Jerusalem on April 2, 2019, ahead of the April 9 general elections. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
6. While wooing Russian-speakers, Haaretz analyst Anshel Pfeffer posits that Netanyahu is “doing everything” to cling to his partnerships with ultra-Orthodox parties because he is steadily losing other right-wing allies.
This alliance is increasingly looking like a survival pact,” he says of Likud’s agreements with United Torah Judaism and Shas.
“Netanyahu’s primacy as the ultimate right-wing leader is being openly questioned not just by Liberman but by the New Right’s Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett, who are trying to market a new brand of nationalism and offering to form a government headed by someone other than Netanyahu,” he writes.
Pfeffer says Liberman is successfully managing to use Netanyahu’s alliances with the ultra-Orthodox to push away enough moderate voters from Likud, possibly denying the prime minister a coalition after the elections for a second time.
7. Amid a spate of child abuse incidents that has shocked the country, the discovery of a severely abused 5-year-old in the central city of Lod makes the front page of Wednesday’s papers.
The girl was found earlier this week tied to a shower in the family apartment bearing signs of severe, long-term neglect.
Haaretz notes that the girl was never registered with the Interior Ministry and authorities were not aware of her existence. According to the paper, the girl’s father was illegally married to two women, and likely didn’t register his second family out of fears he would be criminally prosecuted.
Yedioth columnist Meirav Batito makes an impassioned plea to root out child abuse in Israel. “[Like other abused children] she was born to the wrong parents and probably at a difficult time, but she will pay the ultimate price for it,” Batito writes. “She was saved by neighbors who heard her crying… but that cry for help is one that makes no distinction between race, gender or ethnic origin.”
An explosion on August 8 at the Nenoksa Missile Test Site near Severodvinsk, Russia. (YouTube screenshot)
8. The explosion at a Russian missile testing site in the Arctic over the weekend wasn’t major news in Israel, but the ensuing surge in radiation levels has some in Israel worried.
In a front-page op-ed in Yedioth, columnist Nadav Eyal sounds the alarm about Russia’s “seemingly accelerated arms race and willingness to go to war.”
“Though it’s far less exciting and mysterious than the Chernobyl disaster, these events are indicative of something far deeper and more disturbing,” Eyal, a journalist for Channel 13, writes in the daily. “The worry is that the Russians are fast tracking their arms race and investing vast resources and groundbreaking technologies: nuclear and other, in increasing their military’s might in all aspects and all arenas, from the Arctic to the Middle East.
“What should add to the world’s concern is Putin’s strong hold on the Russian government and his proven willingness to go to war,” Eyal warns. “The latest accident is just another symptom of Russia’s extraordinary armament effort.”